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More than hindsight, we need foresight to go on (Buzz Aldrin's NASA/Columbia Shuttle editorial)
Houston Chronicle ^ | Feb. 3, 2003, 7:05PM | BUZZ ALDRIN

Posted on 02/04/2003 7:14:08 PM PST by weegee

On Saturday, I set three alarms for 6 in the morning. But when I turned on the television, I was puzzled by the relative silence at Mission Control. Though landing time was approaching, there was little activity. The realization dawned as slowly for me, a veteran astronaut, as for everyone else. There was no immediate or decisive announcement, only a slow recognition that a catastrophe had occurred.

I didn't know these astronauts. But I know what they were doing, because I've done it. Astronauts face danger all the time. It's a job where danger is a basic assumption. But you don't think of it that way. You can't.

I became an astronaut because flying had always been part of my life. My father had flown in the 1920s and '30s; he was a major in the Army Air Corps. He was acquainted with Amelia Earhart and Orville Wright. My aunt was one of the first stewardesses, and my uncle was an air traffic manager at Eastern.

Flying at that time was exciting; it was a new kind of frontier. It wasn't yet something all the other children thought of. There was no such thing as being an astronaut in those days, but I knew from a very young age that I wanted to go up in the air.

It was always dangerous. Being a pilot in Korea was dangerous and I did that. For a fighter pilot, the danger is that people are shooting at you. In space, the danger is different: It is the unknown, the inability to respond. In space, we always knew that we were risking our lives. But if you're going to do it, you can't think of it that way. I've had my moments where things went wrong, and I've had to push aside fear.

In 1969, when Neil Armstrong and I made the first landing on the moon, descending toward the surface we experienced a series of computer alarms, and then we ran low on fuel. We didn't panic because we had learned to manage those emotions and set them aside. We had been trained to understand that not everyone survives these situations. That's just the nature of the business.

I don't know that it makes us heroes. I don't even know if the Columbia astronauts were heroes. They were doing something challenging, and they faced great danger. But it all happened so fast that they weren't given the opportunity to respond. A hero is someone who is faced with a decision, and the decision made is ultimately what makes that person into a hero. But these men and women had no time to choose. They were just doing their duty. They weren't offered a chance to respond. They died doing their duty.

What's important now is that we not stop or slow down our space program.

We should take a step back and figure out what went wrong, and we should think about whether we chose the best possible path. But then we have to acknowledge that we did choose it, and that we owe it to our partners and investors and to the nation and to those who sacrificed their lives to continue it.

There were alternatives that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration might have chosen, and we might be in better shape if we had chosen differently. We underestimated the cost of the space shuttle. It is more complicated to maintain than we believed. The space station is far more difficult to assemble than we had originally thought. International cooperation is not an easy to thing to establish. And the cost of erecting the space station and the time it is taking to put it up are not what we anticipated; it is much more difficult.

One thing that this terrible tragedy has demonstrated is that we don't have an adequate escape provision on the shuttle itself. I have been encouraging NASA to modify the shuttle. This catastrophe might have been avoidable if there had been a discrete, survivable escape pod that could separate from the orbiter as it began to break up. Possibly, the astronauts would have been able to continue the re-entry, with parachutes guiding them to a soft landing on land or ocean.

But that's all hindsight. Now we have to look for the best alternatives going forward, so that when we look back 10 or 15 years from now, we can say that in 2003, as a result of the Columbia tragedy, we examined our alternatives closely and made the right decisions.

The United States started something in space, and the world expects us to continue. The future still holds great possibilities. We have to start thinking seriously about the notion of public space travel and commercial activity in space. Beginning with government research and exploration, we need to move toward private citizens in space. We must develop mature rockets and spacecraft as well as hotels and habitats in low orbit for public space travel. From that base we can venture beyond low Earth orbit to the moon, to asteroids and to Mars. It's absolutely critical that we continue our efforts.

- Aldrin is the second human to walk on the moon.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Government; Israel; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events; US: District of Columbia; US: Florida; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: apollo11; buzzaldrin; columbiatragedy; feb12003; moon; nasa; space; spaceshuttle; spacetravel

1 posted on 02/04/2003 7:14:08 PM PST by weegee
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To: weegee
They were just doing their duty. They weren't offered a chance to respond. They died doing their duty.

With all due respect to Mr. Aldrin- there is no damn "JUST" about it, not when the duty they were performing comes with the risks that it did, and requires as much dedication and excellence to fulfill.

2 posted on 02/04/2003 7:22:52 PM PST by fourdeuce82d
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To: weegee
This catastrophe might have been avoidable if there had been a discrete, survivable escape pod that could separate from the orbiter as it began to break up.

That only works if:

1)The crew are aware of the impending danger.

2)Power is still available.

I don't think either of those were the case.
"Roger,uh Bu..."

What I would like to see is a direct synchronization of the video of the orbiter breaking up plus the audio plus the telemetry data together in one presentation. We could learn a lot from that.

3 posted on 02/04/2003 7:27:02 PM PST by red-dawg
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To: weegee
Dr. Aldrin's policy statement is correct.

Anyone really involved in the manned space program would see it.

Clinton's Administration essentially killed our manned space effort for 10 years.

We've ended up with an ISS that is more Russian and ours and a now grounded shuttle fleet.

Bush 43 needs to point to left field and hit another homer.

Only, this homer will change the course of science and aeronautics for our nation for the next 40 years.
4 posted on 02/04/2003 7:27:55 PM PST by bonesmccoy (Defeat the terrorists... Vaccinate!)
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To: weegee
Buzz kicks ass.
5 posted on 02/04/2003 7:32:21 PM PST by TomServo
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Comment #6 Removed by Moderator

To: bonesmccoy
Agree 100 percent!
7 posted on 02/04/2003 7:36:20 PM PST by JennysCool
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To: red-dawg
It MIGHT be possible to do without power if the "escape pod" is constructed as a segment which the astronauts are already in, and which is designed to survive the break-up of the rest of the craft. Deploying parachutes could probably be accomplished automatically, by built in contraptions on the exterior which would be triggered by the force of the passing atmostphere, and be triggered sequentially to deal with the fact that first couple of chutes would almost certainly be destroyed by force and heat very quickly after deploying (but perhaps not before accomplishing some deceleration).
8 posted on 02/04/2003 7:39:04 PM PST by GovernmentShrinker
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To: William Creel
Some cheeseball black-helicopter Michael Moore-wannabe (gawd!) chased Aldrin around with a camera, heckling him with idiot questions about the moon landing. Aldrin clobbered him.
9 posted on 02/04/2003 7:42:46 PM PST by redbaiter
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To: weegee
I received my MBA in Aug of '78. I wrote more than a few papers about the coming of the "space truck". The shuttle was to be an inexpensive airline type spacecraft with quick turn around and low launch costs.

I wrote to Cong. Pepper who headed the Sub committee on space and science. He sent me a box of congressional reports and papers that spoke of a marvelous machine. The Enterprise was to be made flight worthy after its initial drop tests and launch stand/test article usage. Never funded by Congress the Enterprise has sat moldering in a hanger At Dulles Airport since 1985.

The follow on to the ceramic tiles was to be a metallic heat shield, not unlike the material tested for the VentureStar orbital vehicle. This material now sits on the shelf but Congress never funded in the 80s when it should have.

We must wrest control of Space from NASA and give it to our educational system to develop commerically, technically, socially, and culturally. NASA is beaurcratic and needs to be replaced.

See my article about Space University at www.nssnt.org

10 posted on 02/04/2003 7:43:49 PM PST by Young Werther
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To: red-dawg
>>That only works if...<<

I think he means having the crew sit inside a reentry survivable "egg" on the way down.

If they make it to approach, fine. If not, the shuttle is pulverized, the egg falls free, and is "Soyuz-soft" landed by parachute.

11 posted on 02/04/2003 7:47:54 PM PST by Jim Noble
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To: William Creel
Didn't he do that to some weirdo?

He sure did. More power to him.

12 posted on 02/04/2003 8:58:47 PM PST by TomServo
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To: bonesmccoy
Don't know what we can expect from George W. Bush on NASA. He never visited Johnson Space Center when he was Governor and this is his first visit as President.

That said, I agree with how we've gotten locked into a space station that does nothing to expand our space exploration outward.

The Russians have seemed to take more of a capitalist agenda to their space program than the US has considering they charge for space tourists. America holds the patents on some space program originated technologies but some of the products in use are not even made in the US. I'm not talking about things being made for the space program, rather things that are being sold using technology we pioneered (and see no $$$ on). I figure that "we" get money for satellite launches and maybe some of the science experiments.

The moon program astronauts I've spoken with feel let down that the space program has gone no farther with manned space exploration missions. They know that they will not live long enough to see any further manned space voyages.

13 posted on 02/04/2003 9:01:16 PM PST by weegee
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To: William Creel
It's self defense when someone hits a crazed stalker who is conducting an "ambush interview".
14 posted on 02/04/2003 9:02:36 PM PST by weegee
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To: fourdeuce82d
Buzz Aldrin's opinion stands honestly and graciously on its own. He didn't show the Challenger astronauts any disrespect. He showed them the same stoic, calmly reasoned, unemotional respect that they would have shown him. They were his peers. You are not. You are an outsider.

On this issue at least, his opinion is worth much; yours is worth squat.

15 posted on 02/04/2003 9:08:37 PM PST by Kevin Curry
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Or the Columiba astronauts, for that matter.
16 posted on 02/04/2003 9:09:01 PM PST by Kevin Curry
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To: weegee
He's politely trying to say that the international space station is the stupidest idea in the history of space travel.

I'd say he also thinks the ISS is merely the UN office with the best view, but then I'd be putting words in his mouth.

At this point, it's time to cut our losses and let that boondoogle drop into the sea. It's time to privatize the space program and get the hell out of low earth orbit. Colonize the moon, with an eye on Mars.

17 posted on 02/04/2003 9:11:48 PM PST by dead
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To: weegee
at 12,00+ mph what can slow u down? LOL parachutes? if the whole thing burned up what is a sail/ parachute going to do for you. I drove a car over 200mph w chutes deployed and didn't think i would stop in time before the wall came over the horizon, luckly i did! all this hindsight talk is unproductive, dear old buzz is blowin smoke up our ass trying to be self important and pretending he has some answer when hes just as puzzled as the rest of us.
18 posted on 02/04/2003 9:21:07 PM PST by KingNo155
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To: KingNo155
If it worked for Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, it can work for a shuttle escape capsule. IIRC they used a series of timed parachutes starting with some very small ones to decelerate the thing.
19 posted on 02/04/2003 9:48:56 PM PST by ARCADIA (Abuse of power comes as no surprise)
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To: All
Since there was radar imagery of the debris after Columbia broke up, I wondered if debris prior to that would show up on radar, also. The below link is to an archive site for radar images. This particular one is for Amarillo. It appears that possibly there was radar indicated debris at 7:50am CST Southeast of Amarillo.

http://www.rap.ucar.edu/cgi-bin/neilley/NIDS_archive?Radar=AMA&Composite=NONE&Start_date=20030201&Start_time=13&Duration=120&Frequency=0&Parameter=1

It certainly does look like the event on and after 8:00am CST was picked up.

Thoughts?

Note: this site will automatically remove images, so this link may not work after a day or so.

20 posted on 02/04/2003 9:52:48 PM PST by Vortex
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To: Vortex
The Altus, OK Radar shows more clearly debris at 7:53am CST.

http://www.rap.ucar.edu/cgi-bin/neilley/NIDS_archive?Radar=FDR&Composite=NONE&Start_date=20030201&Start_time=13&Duration=120&Frequency=0&Parameter=0

21 posted on 02/04/2003 10:06:20 PM PST by Vortex
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To: ARCADIA
"If it worked for Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, it can work for a shuttle escape capsule. IIRC they used a series of timed parachutes starting with some very small ones to decelerate the thing."

The capsules slowed down by turning speed into heat, just link the space shuttle. Parachutes did not deploy until the capsule had slowed (yes, slowed) to terminal velocity. I am not sure how fast the capsules were going when the first drogue parachutes deployed, but one can rest assured it was much slower than 12,500 MPH.

And it would be very, very difficult to separate a capsule from an airplane flying at 12,500 MPH.

There are many other places to put our money and effort right now, rather than reengineering a 30 year old design. Apollo was an idea on the back of a napkin in 1961, it flew in 1968, and landed on the moon in 1969.

I believe we could build a small, reusable capsule or lifting body that could carry 4-6 people atop an expendable Delta IV rocket within 5 years. A small vehicle could use titanium or other materials instead of the tiles for heat shielding.

We then would only have to use the shuttle for lofting big loads to the ISS. We could even modify the shuttle to fly unmanned for most flights. To gain better economics from the shuttle, we could build an unmanned, disposable cargo carrier to use the existing shuttle solid boosters, external tank, and assembly and launch facilities. This would give us a lifting capability near that of the Saturn V, which we would need for future Moon or Mars missions.

22 posted on 02/04/2003 10:14:47 PM PST by magellan
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To: magellan
I like the way you are thinking. It would probably cost as much to develop a better system then to patch up the existing mess.
23 posted on 02/05/2003 3:01:52 AM PST by ARCADIA (Abuse of power comes as no surprise)
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To: Kevin Curry
He didn't show the Challenger astronauts any disrespect

I didn't mean to suggest that he did.

You are an outsider. On this issue at least, his opinion is worth much; yours is worth squat.

I dunno. Buzz Aldrin spent his life serving his country in risky and demanding ways. From his perspective, the dangers and demands he and his fellow astronauts faced over and over again may have seemed like a case of "just doing their duty."

I did my duty with the 82d for three years, playing with mortars & being pushed out a plane every now and then. Based on my experience in the field of "doing one's duty" I believe what BA and the rest of the astronaut corps have done, and continue to do, is much more demanding, dangerous, and admirable than a 19 year old punk kid doing his duty by falling out a plane & sleeping in mud.

I did not mean to show disrespect to BA, nor did I mean to suggest he was being disrespectful to the crew. I did mean to say that to me, and I suspect many others, what these people do goes way, way beyond merely doing one's duty.

I'm sorry my earlier post did not make that clear.

24 posted on 02/05/2003 7:29:33 AM PST by fourdeuce82d
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To: dead
The astronauts I've talked with saw no merit in a space station as a means of getting us deeper into space. It has been a financial drain against other space projects though including moving to a next generation of reusable orbiting vehicles and deeper manned space exploration. It's now been 30 years since when went to the moon.

None of them would have believed that would be as far as we ventured in 30 years hence.

25 posted on 02/05/2003 4:20:22 PM PST by weegee
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To: Vortex
The radar blip may not be showing a hot enough blip though. The vehicle was already entering the atmosphere and generating heat.
26 posted on 02/05/2003 4:31:29 PM PST by weegee
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To: Vortex
I see what you mean about 7:53. There is the red/orange/yellow rating that the other radars showed (I would assume the colors would tend to the same values and I have seen shots from Dallas, Austin, Houston, and one other city).

Since the spacing is 10minute snapshots and at such a distance, it doesn't give me a good enough image to comment further, but I appreciate the link.

27 posted on 02/05/2003 4:38:43 PM PST by weegee
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